Photo: Dave Inman/Flickr Creative Commons

Lesser Yellowlegs

Tringa flavipes

At first glance, the two species of yellowlegs look identical except for size, as if they were put on earth only to confuse birdwatchers. With better acquaintance, they turn out to have different personalities. The Lesser is often at smaller ponds, often present in larger flocks, and often seems rather tame. Perhaps a more delicate bird (as it appears to be), it does not winter as far north as the Greater Yellowlegs.
Conservation status CONSERVATION. Overall numbers appear to be fairly stable.
Family Sandpipers
Habitat Marshes, mudflats, shores, ponds; in summer, open boreal woods. Occurs widely in migration, including coastal estuaries, salt and fresh marshes, edges of lakes and ponds; typically more common on freshwater habitats. Often in same places as Greater Yellowlegs, but may be less frequent on tidal flats. Breeds in large clearings, such as burned areas, near ponds in northern forest.
At first glance, the two species of yellowlegs look identical except for size, as if they were put on earth only to confuse birdwatchers. With better acquaintance, they turn out to have different personalities. The Lesser is often at smaller ponds, often present in larger flocks, and often seems rather tame. Perhaps a more delicate bird (as it appears to be), it does not winter as far north as the Greater Yellowlegs.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, breeding
  • adult, nonbreeding
  • adult, breeding
  • juvenile
  • adult in foreground, Greater Yellowlegs in background
Feeding Behavior

Typically forages in very shallow water, picking at items on or just below water's surface. Sometimes swings its head back and forth with the tip of the bill in the water.


Eggs

4, sometimes 3. Buff to yellowish or gray, blotched with brown. Incubation is probably by both parents, roughly 22-23 days. Young: Downy young are able to leave nest soon after hatching; are tended by both parents, but feed themselves. Age at first flight probably about 18-20 days.


Young

Downy young are able to leave nest soon after hatching; are tended by both parents, but feed themselves. Age at first flight probably about 18-20 days.

Diet

Insects, small fish, crustaceans. Eats many aquatic insects, including beetles, water boatmen, dragonfly nymphs, crane fly larvae, and others; also terrestrial insects. Also feeds on crustaceans, snails, worms, small fish. Insects make up most of diet in summer.


Nesting

Nesting behavior not well known. On the breeding territory, male performs a rising and falling display flight, while giving a ringing song that can be heard from some distance. Adults may perch on top of dead trees and call, especially when humans intrude on territory. Nest site is on ground in open, typically in dry site and sometimes far from water; may be placed close to log, burned stump, brushpile. Nest is a shallow depression, sparsely lined with leaves, grass.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Tends to migrate a little later in spring and earlier in fall than the Greater Yellowlegs.

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Migration

Tends to migrate a little later in spring and earlier in fall than the Greater Yellowlegs.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A flat tu-tu, less musical than call of Greater Yellowlegs.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Sandpipers Sandpiper-like Birds

Lesser Yellowlegs

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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